Fontana/Affiliate--A Waterless Course
The team at Fontana/Affiliated had already incorporated waterless offset printing and moved to a new facility. The next logical step was waterless CTP.
BY CHRISTOPHER CORNELL
Waterless? The team at Cheverly, MD-based Fontana Lithograph/Affiliated Graphics knows a number of different meanings for the word "waterless."
That word could be used to describe just one of the problems the printer had to overcome as it built its new facility here. Through a revitalization project with the state of Maryland in December 1997, Fontana/Affiliated took ownership of a condemned property, which was nothing more than a slab with a leaking roof and three walls, that had been vacant for 10 years.
Joseph Fontana, a partner in the firm, recalls, "When we stumbled upon the property, the town administrator insisted on a police escort. We had to wipe our feet after leaving the building!"
All that has changed. The new, custom-designed facility that now stands where the old shell stood gives Fontana/Affiliated 70,000 square feet of work space, an increase from the 48,000 square feet available in the former site.
"This is such an exciting milestone for all of us," President Joseph Connors noted as the site was opened. "We will have the space to continue investing in future technology, so Fontana/Affiliated can remain at the top of our industry." And that's just what the 51-year-old, growing company—with approximately $25 million in sales and 120 employees—has set out to do.
As Brendan Connors, partner, notes, "We want to maintain our personal touch as we grow. We want to be the best printer possible, while keeping the feel of a small business."
But even before the move, the firm was dealing with another challenge: How to stand out in the increasingly competitive Washington, DC-area printing market.
"There are plenty of six-color printers in the Washington market," Connors notes. "We wanted a different spin, to attract the attention of the high-end ad agencies and design firms in the area."
Early in 1994, following extensive research into how to set themselves above and apart from their competition, part of the solution to the problem, as it turned out, was in the solution—the fountain solution, that is. The decision was made to go waterless.
"Waterless printing allows us to provide our clients with greater detail and more vibrant colors," Connors says. "There really is a difference."
Fontana/Affiliated installed a six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster CD press with a coater and another 40˝ two-color Heidelberg, and began operating both without fountain solution. They even went so far as to hang a sign in the plateroom forbidding conventional platemaking on jobs that would run on the waterless presses.
Along with the aggressive stance in-house went an aggressive marketing campaign. The firm's tag line, which appears on its vans and everywhere else, is: "The Leader in Waterless." The plan worked, and high-end customers began to take an interest.
Of course, the company has heard the nay-sayers who claim that waterless printing is dead. According to Connors, those negative comments are actually helping Fontana's business.
"It's helping us because we don't have competition," Connors says. "I find it interesting that the new generation of presses that are the future of the industry, such as the Quickmaster DI, are actually waterless."
While many printers charge a premium for waterless printing, Fontana managed to keep prices constant, while still offering the higher quality that dry offset offers. They accomplished this by making the full commitment to waterless printing. Rather than having two production lines, there is just one streamlined operation. In this way, every factor that may make the process more expensive is offset by something that reduces the cost.
Even before turning to the waterless process, the Fontana print shop ran only Heidelberg presses.
When it moved to its new plant, it added another Heidelberg press, a six-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 CD with coater, bringing the pressroom to a total of five Heidelbergs, along with additional Scitex Brisque workstations, another Stahl folder and a Polar jogger in the bindery.
Of course, the road to waterless is littered with the bodies of those unfortunate printers that made a half-hearted attempt to print waterless, and stumbled. Fontana/Affiliated Graphics knew that.
Even as their quality improved through the waterless technique, Fontana officials watched as competitors made improvements in conventional print quality, especially as those printers employ computer-to-plate workflows.
The obvious choice, and the next natural step for them, is computer-to-waterless plate.
"Having researched CTP for more than two years, we are convinced that the advantages of CTP coupled with waterless printing will give our customers the finest product they can get anywhere," explains partner Joe Fontana. "Computer-to-plate allows a printer to control the dot like he has never done before. This digital control is the key to quality."
The firm was already accustomed to a one-piece film flat, having added a complete Scitex system in mid-1993, in preparation for the move to waterless printing. With a digital workflow already in place, choosing a platesetter was next on their agenda.
Fontana officials looked at several of the leading CTP output devices. After spending countless hours and several demonstrations and print tests researching their options, they decided to purchase a new Scitex Lotem platesetter. The decision was largely based on their experience with the Scitex imagesetters and front-end system, and that the Lotem fits into their established workflow.
"We are a Scitex Brisque shop and the decision came down to workflow. There are other CTP devices; however, the Lotem provided us with the most efficient workflow. When you need to meet your clients' demanding schedules, you better have a great workflow," says Fontana.
Turnaround time of jobs in the printing industry is continuing to get tighter. Realizing this, the execs at Fontana/Affiliated knew that they must complete the circle of a digital workflow with digital proofing. The company already had been running digital proofs with its IRIS Realist digital color proofer for the past couple years.
"The IRIS is probably the most cost-efficient, high-end color proof available," relates Joe Connors. "However, we still needed to have the ability to proof the dot. There are many situations where you can get into trouble with a non-halftone proof. A printer must be able to proof moiré patterns, vignettes and trapping issues before he gets to the press."
Fontana/Affiliated decided to be one of the first to purchase the Kodak Approval XP4 digital color proofer. "The Kodak Approval has the track record with its first generation machine. Now, Kodak Polychrome Graphics has taken their technology and further improved it with the XP4. The Approval will allow us to fingerprint the lower dot gain characteristics of waterless printing with much more accuracy," comments Brendan Connors.
When choosing the plates that would run on the system, Fontana turned to Presstek and agreed to be a beta site for Presstek's new PEARLdry Plus plate.
"This plate allows the company to continue to provide high-resolution printing, while maintaining the advantages of waterless printing in the CTP environment," Connors says. "Many of our clients' jobs have line screens of 250 to 300. With screen rulings this high, you must have a plate that can still keep a highlight dot open."
What's on the horizon for Fontana/Affiliated? "Continued growth," says Brendan Connors. "We built the new plant with room to grow. We have additional property on the site and will be able to expand if necessary."
As for new equipment, Connors says the team is considering an additional press and is looking at 10-color perfectors. "The one problem with the 10-unit presses is that you can't perfect aqueous coating, and we do a lot of that work," he says. "We're hoping Heidelberg will solve that problem soon."
There is a guiding philosophy apparent in all the company's decisions.
"We believe in order to maintain longterm growth, we must reinvest our profits in staying current on technology, and provide continuous training and education for our employees," says Joe Connors.